Councils need to work together better to avoid catastrophic cuts, according to Bucks County Council leader Martin Tett.
Speaking to this newspaper, Mr Tett said that annual government spending cuts run the risk of crippling councils, if they don’t work smart to tighten their belts.
But Mr Tett defended his council’s big projects like the Waterside North Development, saying that the cash comes from a budget designed to maximise money made by the council, and the scheme will do just that.
He said: “It doesn’t look to the majority of people that there should be a problem.
“We keep hearing that the economy is booming and people think, if we are getting 3% a year growth surely the worst is over.
“But the reality is that the deficit is still £75-95billion, and when you look at the areas that central government has responsibilty for, including the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the NHS, it is clear that local government is going to continue to suffer over the next five years.”
He added: “Nine years ago when I joined this council it was pretty easy to find areas where we could save money. But the reality now is that all of those things are gone, and we are facing some really tough decisions.
“I think for the next five years the reality is that local government is going to have to become leaner and leaner. I think we need to examine some of the ways that we organise ourselves, we have to find ways of making this work.
“Unitary is an option but it’s not the only option, for example this week our Trading Standards merges with Surrey County Council, two authorities that each have different people with different areas of expertise, it will provide an overall better service.”
He added: “I also think we need to have a more joined up approach to planning.”
Mr Tett is launching a public consultation, which will help the council decide what residents’ priorities are when it comes to cutting back services.
A booklet, entitled Tough Decisions Tough Times, lays out a list of choices for residents to prioritise, including providing cultural activities and museums, safeguarding vulnerable children and adults and providing services for gypsies and travellers.
The survey can be filled out online at the council’s website, or you can pick up a booklet at your local library or doctors surgery.
And Mr Tett said that he thinks the coalition government needs to consider the impact on councils when passing some of its newer legislation.
He said: “Our government is really focussed on getting quality and value for money which is good, and as a council we support the government.
“But things like the Care Act, which means that elderly people only have to fund their care up to a certain threshold, comes from local government funding.
“While the idea is a good one, where does the money come from? It comes from someone else’s services.”